The Other Face of Kuwait

 

It was at the height of the furor over the reported abuses committed against Filipina domestic helpers in Kuwait when I first went there. It was my cabalen Rowena Tinio, a local radio talk show host, who suggested we discuss the issue over dinner at a small kamayan near the hotel I was staying in.

The place is called Taste of Pinoy and is popular for its seafood mix of crabs, shrimps, squid, and daing na bangus that comes with boiled vegetables and unlimited rice and served boodle style. Many of our kababayans also go there for its halo-halo and pandesal as well as its siopao and siomai.

Taste of Pinoy is unlike the typical turo-turo that Overseas Filipino Workers in the Middle East are familiar with. Unlike the usual carinderias, the place is small with only four tables that could seat 12 persons at most.

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Taste of Pinoy is unlike the typical turo-turo that Overseas Filipino Workers in the Middle East are familiar with. Unlike the usual carinderias, the place is small with only four tables that could seat 12 persons at most.

Other than its name, the only hint that it was Filipino were the waiter who took our order and the chef that prepared it. A stern-looking Middle Eastern lady seated at the cash register later helped the waiter prepare the table. I assumed she was the manager.

When dinner came, I attacked the daing na bangus and the shrimps with the talong and okra dipped in vinegar and bagoong. I told Weng she could have the crabs. After the feast, the lady at the counter approached our table and asked us in perfect English how the food was.

“It was the best meal I’ve had since I arrived for my second visit to Kuwait,” I told the woman who turned out to be the owner of the establishment. Out of curiosity I asked: “Why did you name your place Taste of Pinoy? Do you have any connections to the Philippines?”

“It was the best meal I’ve had since I arrived for my second visit to Kuwait,” I told the woman who turned out to be the owner of the establishment. Out of curiosity I asked: “Why did you name your place Taste of Pinoy? Do you have any connections to the Philippines?”

“It’s Bernadette,” she told me.

“What’s special about her?” I asked.

“Bernadette is my daughter’s nanny and I’ve had her for the past 30 years,” she said with a smile on her face. “She came to us here when I was pregnant with Zaina and she has been with us ever since.”

She told me how Zaina, who is now an architect interior designer, looked up to Bernadette like her second mother. She said Zaina understands Filipino but can’t speak it.

“Bernadette is like family to us,” she told us as she recalled how she had to fly to Manila with her late husband to visit Bernadette’s mother and see how she was when the Filipina declined to avail herself of her vacation.

She then told us that Bernadette was not the only Filipino who had been with them. There was also Lita.

Lita came ahead of Bernadette and was the one in charge of the kitchen. She cooked for the family for almost 30 years until she suffered a stroke that paralyzed half her body.

Although she could no longer work, Lita stayed with them for another three years until she and her husband had to bring her to the Philippines when her condition deteriorated. Even though she was in the Philippines already, the family regularly sent Lita medicines until she passed away a few years later.

I was touched by what she told me. I thanked her for taking care of our kababayans and for sharing with me another side of the story that only few know about.

Her name is Nouria Al-Fadhel. And she is Kuwaiti.

Kuwait, 13 February 2018

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